New Royal

(Metro Arts Theatre)


By Marcel Dorney

The Independents 2006

Profit share production

With Louise Brehmer, Jonathan Brand, Lucas Stibbard

In Greek mythology, Hera was the wife (and sister) of Zeus, king of the Gods. She was worshipped as the goddess of marriage and birth, and her virginity returned every year when she bathed in a sacred well. Her children, some sources suggest, were conceived not with the help of a man, but out of lust and hatred, by slapping her hand on the ground. She was constantly jealous of her husband’s amorous affairs, and punished her rivals with implacable fury. Even Zeus could not stand up to her.

Why do you need to know all this? Simply because it might help to understand the choice of name for the female character in this play, an aspiring designer from the Gold Coast. Marcel Dorney’s Hera crashes the official opening of her hometown’s new Centre for Excellence in Science and the Arts (stop laughing!) and reluctantly becomes embroiled with a big, beefy, shaven-headed bully (Jonathan Brand) who has recently inherited his father’s vast media empire. Presumably to avoid libel suits, Dorney has named this thuggish anti-hero Lachlan, not an especially subtle touch, especially as his family name is Vaunt.

Lachlan woos her with helicopter flights and a platinum credit card, and offers her a design space over which she is to have complete control, so naturally she agrees to marry him and bear his children. What she doesn’t realise (because she hasn’t read the same unreliable scandal sheets that we have) is that he is in fact homosexual, but needs an heir to continue the dynasty. And here entereth crippled architectural genius Dan Pritikin (for the life of me, I couldn’t work out the symbolism of this name), and we are left to ponder whether he is the hero bringing salvation or the devil who will take Hera down to hell so that male might and egos will prevail.

But don’t underestimate our girl. She is the Queen of the Gods, and although she may have as little idea about what is going on as we have, she manages to seduce Pritikin so that she can get pregnant (sensitive audience members may like to avert their eyes from this particular scene), wreaks revenge on all her enemies and, one supposes, goes off into the world to found a dynasty of her own.

At least, that’s what I think happens. The plot is so convoluted, and the script so laboured and portentous, that I kept losing interest, in spite of the best efforts of the very talented threesome who agreed to play these over-written parts. New Royal has the sub-title “un comedie de nouveau noir” , which makes the very basic mistake of confusing the gender of the noun, which should be une comedie – and I’m sorry to be pedantic, but if you’re going to show off by using French phrases, you should be careful to get the grammar correct; and while I’m on the subject, was Lucas Stibbard’s abominable French accent deliberate, or didn’t he and the director know any better? …(At this point, having lost my own grammatical structure entirely, I’m going to finish this sentence and begin again…)

New Royal purports to be “a wicked black diamond of a comedy”, but I’m afraid it gives out a dull glow rather than a sparkle. This is partly because of the over-convoluted plot, but mostly because of the stodgy dialogue, which is more like a laborious written treatise than a playscript meant for performance. This is a great disappointment, for Marcel Dorney is one of our best young playwrights, and his scripts for Oman Ra and The Knowing of Mary Poppins were real treats. But here he takes himself and his thesis far too seriously, and lacks the lightness of touch that has made his other plays so appealing.

It fell to the actors to make the play glitter at all, and Louise Brehmer in particular managed to sustain the fire in her taxing role of Hera/narrator. Lucas Stibbard as Pritikin showed a physical agility with his crutches that matched the appropriate surliness of his embittered character Pritikin (and I suppose he is almost thin enough to deserve that name); while Jonathan Brand increases in stature as an actor with every new role, although I could have wished for a little more menace in his rather stolid performance.

New Royal is a play with a great deal of potential, but I think it needs the objective eye of a dramaturge to bring it down to size, by cutting some of the most academically pretentious prose and simplifying the text.

Directed by Marcel Dorney

Music composed and performed by Dani Kirby

Playing until 26 August: Wednesday – Saturday at 8pm, no performance Friday 24 August

Duration : 1 hour 40 minutes, no interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Fri 11th August 2006)